SYDNEY (AFP) - Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Thursday described claims that an Australian teenager carried out a suicide bombing in Iraq as "absolutely horrific", highlighting the lure the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group has on youngsters.
A photo posted online, purportedly from a propaganda video by the militant group, shows a white van alongside an inset image of a young man who appears to be Melbourne teen Jake Bilardi sitting in a driver's seat.
It allegedly shows the 18-year-old, also known as Abu Abdullah al-Australi, before he attacks an Iraqi army unit in western Iraq, although the claims cannot be independently verified.
Australia's department of foreign affairs was unable to confirm whether Bilardi was involved.
"The government's capacity to confirm reports of deaths in either Syria or Iraq is extremely limited," it said.
At least 10 people were killed and 30 wounded in coordinated attacks on government-held areas of the Iraqi city of Ramadi on Wednesday, involving seven almost simultaneous suicide car bombs, Iraqi police said.
Earlier this week, Fairfax Media identified a picture circulating online of a Westerner shown holding a rifle alongside ISIS fighters as Bilardi. He had initially been dubbed "Britain's white jihadi" by London media.
Members of two mosques in Melbourne and friends of the teenager confirmed his identity, saying he converted to Islam after his mother died of cancer.
Abbott said reports that he was involved in a suicide bombing highlighted the lure of the ISIS.
"This is a horrific situation, an absolutely horrific situation," he told reporters, without confirming whether Bilardi was involved or not.
"And it shows the lure, the lure of this death cult to impressionable youngsters and it's very, very important that we do everything we can to try to safeguard our young people against the lure of this shocking, alien and extreme ideology."
The developments came after Australia stopped two teenage brothers at Sydney airport believed to be heading to the Middle East to fight, amid growing concern in Western countries over young people joining jihadist groups.
That case followed three British schoolgirls leaving their London homes to join ISIS in Syria in February.
Fairfax Media reported that two months after his disappearance in the middle of last year, Bilardi contacted his family to tell them he was in Iraq training for a "martyrdom mission" with a suicide vest.
He later called again to say he was "too scared to do it and he prefers being a soldier" and was planning to travel to Syria, Fairfax said.
Around 140 Australians have travelled to fight with ISIS and other militant groups in Syria and Iraq, with another 150 supporting them at home, the government has said.